Prebiotics are not a new concept, but they are only now starting to get some time in the spotlight. Until recently, it was always probiotics that were given center stage. However, people are starting to realize just how important prebiotics are to intestinal health. So what is the difference between the two, and are prebiotics really the answer to improved gut health?
Probiotics are “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health beneﬁt on the host”. They are beneficial to the health of our lower gastrointestinal tract (mainly the colon). We often refer to these helpful microorganisms as the 'good bacteria' in our gut.
Prebiotics, on the other hand, are food for those good bacteria. They are certain carbohydrates that the human body cannot digest or absorb. Because of that, they travel to the lower gastrointestinal tract intact, where they are fermented by the good bacteria. This leads to (a) the stimulation of growth and/or activity of health-promoting intestinal lactobacilli and bifidobacteria bacteria, and (b) the production of short-chain fatty acids. This, in turn, results in many significant health benefits.
Some of the more common food sources of prebiotics are asparagus, leeks, onions, garlic, scallions, tomatoes, bananas, Jerusalem artichokes, soybeans, chickpeas, green peas, lentils, mung, lima, northern, and navy beans, cashews, pistachios, barley, oats, and dried fruits.
Prebiotic foods improve gut health in many ways. In particular, they help:
1. Lower the pH in the colon, which helps to prevent the growth of pathogenic bacteria
2. Induce the production of antimicrobial substances
3. Reduce the production of compounds that cause inflammation
4. Improve the colon's ability to resist pathogenic bacteria
5. Stimulate the immune system
6. Improve gastrointestinal function
Intestinal health is extremely important, not only for our day-to-day comfort, but also our overall well-being. By feeding your good bacteria, you can gain many wonderful health benefits. So add some garlic to your pasta sauce, throw some beans into your salad, or try making this simple slow cooker asparagus soup for a healthy dose of prebiotics.
 Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Evaluation of Health and Nutritional Properties of Probiotics in Food Including Powder Milk with Live Lactic Acid Bacteria, October 2001
 Bindels, L. B., Delzenne, N. M., Cani, P. D., & Walter, J. (2015). Towards a more comprehensive concept for prebiotics. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 12(5), 303
 Gropper, S., & Smith, J. (2012). Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism (6th ed.) Belmont, CA: Wadsworth